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November 16th, 2009
10:46 AM ET

Dear President Obama #301: The terror trials

Reporter's Note: President Obama is entering the final 65 days of his first year in office. It’s kind of hard to imagine that a quarter of his presidency is already gone, unless he is re-elected. Every day since his inauguration I’ve written a letter to the White House. That’s a little hard to imagine too.

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/CRIME/11/13/khalid.sheikh.mohammed/story.khalid.sheikh.mohammed2.gi.jpg caption="Khalid Sheikh Mohammed reportedly confessed to being the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks after being waterboarded." width=300 height=169]

Tom Foreman | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

Dear Mr. President,

Back in Colorado, during our neighborhood picnic each year, the teenage boys would challenge the men…most of us in our 30’s or 40’s…to a basketball game. They were faster, stronger, had played a lot more games recently; and yet every single time, we beat them. Huffing and puffing so loudly we sounded like a concertina band, we faked them out on shots, edged them out for rebounds, and pushed them out when they tried to muscle in.

The reason they kept losing was that they thought basketball skill was what mattered. The reason we kept winning was that we knew what really counted was patience, courage, confidence, and cunning.

I was thinking of that, amid all this debate over bringing those terrorism trials to a New York court, instead of keeping them in a military tribunal. We, as a nation, still aren’t precisely sure how to grapple with these particular opponents; in terms of our intelligence operations, our military power, or our system of justice. We are vastly more powerful, more educated, more technologically advanced, and our extraordinarily well-trained and dedicated troops can quite simply pound them to dust anywhere on the planet in head-to-head combat.

But the old men of the terrorist movements know that. So they refuse to engage on any terms except their own. They attack when we are not ready, and in ways we have not imagined. They use the world’s borders as fences to stop our armies. Their camouflage is a sea of civilians. They exploit our freedoms, our decency, and our courts against us in any way they can.

I’m not passing judgment on your decision about these trials. You and the rest of the political crowd will thoroughly gnaw that bone without me. I’m saying, the reason we are agonizing is because we still don’t know how we want to treat these enemies. We know we are locked in a dirty, global war, full of cheating; but we’re not yet sure how to win it without getting dirty, and cheating ourselves.

Hope your Monday is off to a good start. Call if you can.

Regards,

Tom

Follow Tom on Twitter @tomforemancnn.

Find more of the Foreman Letters here.

soundoff (3 Responses)
  1. Jimmy

    Big mistake to try Terrorists that are captured outside of the United States in our Civilian judicial system. They are POWs and come under the protection of the Geneva Convention and if necessary, tried in Military Tribunal. Just imagine if an Al Quida terrorists is convicted and sentenced to death in a US civilian Court. Now imagine the outcry if an american soldier was captured by The Taliban or Al Quida and taken to Iran and tried under the Iranian civlil court system. As hard as we and the rest of the world try to prevent it, Iran finds the soldier guilty, and sentences the soldier to death by beheading and states, "it's OK, the Americans do it!"

    November 16, 2009 at 2:41 pm |
  2. Tim Gibson

    Yikes, for a moment there when you were speaking of our opponents I felt as if you were speaking about that group on the hill. Anyway, I do not think it would be a booste to our economy in creating jobs to house war criminals, that is a place for our military as their duty and responsibility. Nor will by using our constitution to protect and defend our opponents in a civilian court will provide an unbiased trial. Exactly where would one find a jury for this who does not already have an opinion or heard of this issue. Thus, there are going to be instant barriers to overcome in justice.

    November 16, 2009 at 11:53 am |
  3. Keith R. Enste

    As we approach the prosecution of these individuals, we must be mindful of their views about life and death: they seek to be martyrs for their cause. If we invoke the Death-Penalty in this case, we, in effect, are giving them exactly what it is they desire: to die for their cause. We must be cognizant and aware of their views as it relates to these matters. They should be held in prison for the rest of their natural lives, allow them to rot; placating the public by executing them only acquiesces to our view and our standards seeing death is punitive. We must be cognizant of the fact, death is, however, seen by them as a reward. They believe and see it as noble to die for the “cause.” We should not allow our anger to cloud this reality. Executing them only serves to give them what they desire, and may well cause further unrest. Lock them up in solitary for the remainder of their natural lives. We must not mistake a perceived punishment, on our part, as a perceived reward, on their part, by virtue of their out-dated ideologies

    November 16, 2009 at 10:31 am |